Saturday, February 14, 2009

Daniel in the Lion's Den

Daniel in the Lion's Den
The most common mistake made by artists when depicting 'Daniel in the Lion's Den' is showing Daniel to be much younger than he actually was. Most children's Bibles show Daniel to be between 20 and 40 years of age when this event in his life happened. A close inspection of the dates in the margins of your Bible reveal that Daniel was around 80 years old when thrown to the lions!

When I was comparing the many versions of this scene painted by different artists. I noticed something interesting about the lion's den itself. Artists like Henry Ossawa Tanner, J. James Tissot, W A Foster and Briton Riviere show a purpose built lion's den, rather like a stone prison cell, whereas Rubens, Gustav Dore and others favor an underground cave, either naturally formed or hewn out of the rock. I noticed that the pictures that portrayed the den as a cave were less menacing to the viewer than those which depicted the den as a purpose built cell. The reason for this, I believe, is that the lions which are shown lying in a natural cave look almost like they're relaxing in their natural habitat. Whereas, the lions shown pacing up and down an empty stone cell look much more restless and agitated. These lions are being contained in a purpose built waste disposal unit! The monotony for them was only broken when an unfortunate victim was thrown in!
As the lion's den appears to be in the grounds of King Darius' palace, it would make sense that it was a purpose built enclosure. In my version, (above), I originally showed lots of blood spattered on the walls of the cell, but I decided that, as this picture is for a children's Bible, I should remove some! Although some kids love the gory bits!

I very much liked the lighting in the version of 'Daniel in the Lion's Den' by Henry Ossawa Tanner which is a feature of his work that we've discussed before on the blog.
Harold Copping added a nice touch to his version of this picture also. The reflective eyes of the lions in the semi-darkness are lit by the light coming in through the opening above. Copping also shows the den to be only about 8 foot high which also makes sense. Most artists, including myself, depict the den as being much higher.

As always, we look forward to your comments.


Nahum said...

Dear Graham,
Thanks again for another thoughtful wonderful biblical rendition. I think you're absolutely right about the approximate age of Daniel. Whether the den was a cave or a prison like enclosure is interesting to contemplate.I think the scriptural clue that it may have been an undeground type cave comes from the sentence describing the fate of Daniel's accusers. "And the king commanded, and they brought those men that had accused Daniel, and they cast them into the den of lions,them, their children, and their wives; and they had not come to the bottom of the den , when the lions had the mastery of them, and broke all their bones to pieces" (6:25). This gives one the visual impression that these individuals were cast downward from a height into the depths of an underground cave. Prior to their bodies falling on the ground, and midway from top to bottom, it appears that the lions jumped up and mauled these individuals midair, prior to their bodies hitting the ground. If we put this together with the sentence regarding Daniel's enclosure, "And a stone was brought , and layed upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it.." (6:18), this gives the image of closing the hole of the underground cave by rolling the stone. In the abscence of sentence 6:25, this could have gone either way; moving the stone against a wall-like vertical opening, or rolling the stone to close a hole in the ground.It's always interesting how different artists visually translate words into different images. Once again thanks for the well thought out beautiful illustration.

Deboraw said...

Graham, Nahum brings several good points to mind. When you think on the size, wouldn't it had to have been larger than eight foot to accommodate 'the advisers, their wives, etc.? Maybe not, but I agree with Nahum I think your illustration was excellent. Deboraw.

Bible artist said...

Some very good points Nahum. When I've read Daniel 6:25 in the past, I have thought it strange how these victims could have been ripped apart even before they hit the ground, but I hadn't thought before of this verse in terms of it being a clue to the possible layout of the lion's den. This verse does suggest that It took some time before the victims hit the ground, which would in turn suggest that there may have been a steep slope going down from the entrance with possible outcrops of rock on the way down which lions could perch on. This would point to a cave rather than a cell!
This does also suggest, as you point out, that there was some height to the den.

We don't read of Daniel receiving any other injuries in this incident. Had an 80 year old been dropped vertically into the den, he would almost certainly have broken some bones! So again it would make sense that there was some kind of slope. As King Darius was concerned for Daniel's welfare, would Daniel have been lowered into the den? The AV uses the word "cast" which does sound like he was 'thrown in'. Would Darius have allowed his men to do this?
I was wondering if the original Hebrew word had other possible meanings?

Yes, I have also seen a number of different interpretations of the stone used to seal the den's entrance! Some show a boulder type stone being rolled over the mouth of a cave, others show a flat stone being lifted over a circular hole in the ground.

In my first picture of Daniel in the lion's den I did depict the den as a cave. At least I have shown it both ways now! ;0)
This is yet another reminder to me of how important it is to read the scriptures carefully as there is so much information which is implied as well as stated. I envy Bible artists like Nahum who can read Hebrew.

Yes, they are very good points!
The reason I thought that Copping's lower ceiling seemed reasonable was that Daniel could have easily been both lowered in and lifted out of the den. But, as Nahum has pointed out from Daniel 6:25, it does look like there was some height to the den. My reasoning is flawed though, as not only would they not normally be concerned about how they threw victims into the den, (as they were going to die anyway), they certainly never expected to be lifting anyone out!

Paul G said...

From Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary [easton]:

"Den : a lair of wild beasts (Ps. 10:9; 104:22; Job 37:8); the hole of a venomous reptile (Isa. 11:8); a recess for secrecy "in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb. 11:38); a resort of thieves (Matt.21:13; Mark 11:17). Daniel was cast into "the den of lions"(Dan. 6:16, 17).
Some recent discoveries among the ruins of Babylon have brought to light the fact that the practice of
punishing offenders against the law by throwing them into a den of lions was common."

Based on everything I've read I would say the den was definitely an underground cave Graham.

Bible artist said...

It looks like it's 'Back to the drawing board' for me!

It would be interesting to know if there's been any archaeological research done on the Babylonian Lion's Dens.

Paul G said...

My research uncovered this interesting item Graham. From

"Keil gives an interesting account of a lions’ den such as has been found in more modern times. Keil observes, “We have no account by the ancients of the construction of lions’ dens. Ge. Host, in his work on Fez and Morocco, p. 77, describes the lions’ dens as they have been found in Morocco. According to his account, they consist of a large square cavern under the earth, having a partition-wall in the middle of it, which is furnished with a door, which the keeper can open and close from above. By throwing in food, they can entice the lions from one chamber into the other, and then, having shut the door, they enter the vacant space for the purpose of cleaning it. The cavern is open above, its mouth being surrounded by a wall of a yard and a half high, over which one can look down into the den. This description agrees perfectly with that which is here given in the text regarding the lions’ den.”309 Keil goes on to explain that there was a door in the wall surrounding the cavern through which both the keepers and the lions could enter except when the stone was in place. This accounts for the fact that Darius was able to converse freely with Daniel before the stone was removed from the door."

Nahum said...

Dear Graham,
In answer to your question about the hebrew word for "cast into",you are correct this does give us more of a hint. You should know , however, that Chapter 6 of Daniel is written in Aramaic. The Book of Daniel is the only Book in the Hebrew Bible that has portions of it written in Hebrew , and portions of it written in Aramaic. Chapters 1-2 until the middle of sentence 4 in chapter 2 is written in Hebrew. It then transitions from the middle of sentence 4 into Aramaic until the first sentence of Chapter 8 which resumes in Hebrew until the end of the Book.
Back to the words "cast into" , the Aramaic word used in the Book of Daniel is "Uramu", "and they cast him" into the Lion's den. The root word of "Uramu" is "Remah" which in Aramaic means "to throw, to swing". Visually that would mean to throw someone by the arms or legs, either up, so that they may descend into a hole by gravity or directly down into the hole. If we were dealing with an entrance to a cell, they wouldn't have to swing him, they would just push him. Thus by your suggestion of looking into the root original meaning of the biblical word, I think we can surmise that the den was probably an underground cave. Also by the way, the famous writing on the wall in the Book of Daniel, "Meneh, menaeh, tekel upharsin" is Aramaic in Hebrew characters.

Bible artist said...

Paul G:
Thanks for that Paul! I've been trying to visualize the lions den described here. I don't suppose there was a diagram with this article was there?
It is surprising how many buildings are built above caverns in this part of the world.
I was amazed when reading Dr Leen Ritmeyer's book 'The Quest' to see how many caves there are under the Temple Mount! Many of the blocks used to build the Temple were quarried from the caverns beneath.

Thanks for that Nahum! I've been thinking about both your comment and Paul's above, and I've suddenly realized that I did always intend that the lion's den in the picture was below ground. (You can see the shadow of King Darius' head being cast from above). I can now see that my mistake was to construct this cell with blocks! An underground cavern would have been hewn out of the rock, not built with blocks! The use of blocks does suggest that the lion's den in the picture is above ground.
On reflection, my original question should really have been, "Was this lion's den a natural or man-made cave?" A naturally formed cave would contain lots of interesting rock formations whereas a man-made cave would have been more like the smooth sided square caverns hewn out of rock that Paul describes above. It was this second type of cave that was in the back of my mind when I started the illustration.

Thanks also for the helpful comments on the text. It does unlock so much more when you can understand Hebrew, or in this case Aramaic.

Paul G said...

No diagram Graham. Sorry. It is a little difficult to visualize the exact positioning of the doors in the partitions from the description.

dominique eichi said...

Great blog thanks.
Please consider posting " Follow this blog" here as it is easier to follow that way.

Bible artist said...

Thanks Dominique. The Bible illustration blog is still based on the older 'Blogger' system which doesn't allow you to display the "Follow this blog" option. I haven't changed over to the new Blogger system for the B.I.B as I've done a lot of experimenting with the html code in the template, and I didn't want to change the look of it. I set up the Bible illustration blog Guest book on the new Blogger system which does give you the 'Follow this blog' option.
Having said that, three people so far have managed to select the 'Follow this blog' option for the B.I.B. even though it's not displayed. I'm not sure how they've done it though, it must give you the option somewhere! If I can find a way to display this option I will. I'm still learning! ;0p

Deboraw said...

Dear Graham, I find Nahum's comment very intriguing. How can the Aramaic be in Hebrew? Is it as was suggested (we discussed it at supper) a transliteration? Do I have the correct word? Such as taking baptizo and in English it becomes baptize? The Aramaic in Daniel is interesting also, something to study on. Thanks Graham (and Nahum). Deboraw

Nahum said...

The Aramaic as spoken by Jews in Babylonia and that which is used in the Babylonian Talmud, and still spoken by a small group of near-eastern Jews in Israel today,as a living language, uses the Hebrew script. The Babylonians had their own heiroglyphic -styled alphabet for Babylonian which I believe was Aramaic. Thus the spoken word was the same for the jews and ancient babylonians, and the written word different. Perhaps Aramaic which uses Hebrew characters started out as a transliteration of the babylonian heiroglyphic type of alphabet just like Ladino is transliterated Spanish using Hebrew characters, and Yiddish is essentially transliterated German using Hebrew characters. But once this transliteration occured over time, both Ladino, and Yiddish, separated from Spanish, and German, respectively,forming separate and distinct languages with distinct grammatical rules of their own. This is probably how Aramaic using Hebrew characters evolved from Aramaic using Hieroglyphic ancient Babylonian.

Bible artist said...

I'm glad that you answered that one Nahum, thanks!

Deboraw said...

Very interesting. Since the alphabet stands for sounds, it would make sense to have a spoken word represented by an alphabet (or the characters one uses as we would an alphabet) represent the words you speak. Maybe I'm overtired, and not making sense, but maybe? Thank you for the explanation. Deboraw

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on Marc Chagall - Daniel in the lions den?

Bible artist said...